WPP's Media Innovation Group and Vibrant Media have been hit with potential class-action lawsuits for allegedly circumventing the browser settings of Safari users in order to place tracking cookies on their computers.
New York resident Michael Frohberg and California resident Andy Wu allege in a complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn that they were "shocked, humiliated, and angered" to learn that Media Innovation Group "hacked their devices and obtained private end user iformation about them without their permission and against their will."
In a separate lawsuit also filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York resident Daniel Mazzone and California resident Michelle Kuswanto make nearly identical allegations against Vibrant Media.
All of the consumers are seeking class-action status. They quietly filed the cases late last month.
WPP declined to comment on the allegations. Vibrant Media hasn't yet responded to Online Media Daily's request for comment.
The lawsuits stem from a report by grad student Jonathan Mayer, who published research in February stating that WPP, PointRoll, Google and Vibrant Media circumvented Safari's built-in privacy settings.
Unlike other browsers, Safari blocks third-party tracking cookies by default. But the Web companies developed a hack that allowed them to track Safari users despite the browser settings, Mayer reported.
Google, PointRoll and Vibrant Media confirmed Mayer's report in February, and said they had stopped tracking Safari users or would soon do so. WPP has never commented.
Google acknowledged that it used a workaround to Safari's cookie-blocking in order to allow users to post that they liked an ad via the +1 button. But once the workaround was in place, Google was able to track Safari users anonymously as they surfed the Web.
PointRoll said it conducted a "limited test" in order to determine the effectiveness of mobile ads.
Google and PointRoll were sued shortly after Mayer's report was published. Those cases are pending.
Other privacy lawsuits against Web companies have hit roadblocks when users weren't able to allege economic injury.
The consumers who are suing WPP and Vibrant Media attempt to get around that hurdle by alleging that their browsing data is valuable in itself. As evidence, they refer to Google's decision to allow pay users who allow the company to track them with up to $25 in gift cards.
It is extremely important for Marketers and Agencies to respect privacy settings of the users and so as the FCC rules. The last thing you want is to break the law of the land. There are several companies out there those who employ methods like digital-fingerprinting, browser-header, flash-cookies, IP addresses, multi-device-tracking and ad-verification techniques to track the internet users without their consent instead of using it for intended purposes with user consent. This is more prevalent in Marketing Attribution and Retargeting areas. Marketers and Agencies should be careful to not fall into this trap. It is possible to abide by the law and to have accurate measurements at the same time if you use the right methods and technologies.